Dutch Oven Jambalaya

Cooked shrimp lined up on top of finished Jambalaya.

A Taste of Wild - Gulf Coast

Jon and Aubrey head south to the Gulf Coast to discover the hot, humid bayou country, explore the deep and diverse flavors of Cajun and Creole cooking and share their favorite eats along the way.

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

It’s a warm, foggy night in the Davis Bayou in southern Mississippi, and Aubrey and I stand in the RV and assess the food situation. We’ve got a mish-mash of leftovers––some chicken and a bit of sausage––and half a pound of gulf shrimp we impulse purchased earlier in the day because it looked so good. 

Aubrey grabs the Dutch oven.  She’s way ahead of me.

“Babe, can you dice me some onion and green pepper?” She’s already building a campfire.  “We’re makin’ jambalaya!”

Jambalaya, as a word, literally means “mish-mash” in an old dialect spoken by people from Provence, France. So how did it come to stand for this delicious bayou classic? A lot like the dish of Jambalaya itself, Louisiana comprises a blend of cultures. Some of the first Europeans to settle in the area were the French, who came by way of what’s now northeast Canada and Maine, previously known as Acadia. As the Acadians settled and their unique French patois slurred their identity into “Cajuns,” settlers from Spain also began to arrive and make themselves at home. Both of these populations brought with them enslaved people who carried their West African culinary traditions with them. Although slavery is a tragic part of American history, it’s impossible to ignore the huge influence that West African people had in creating the flavors of Creole cooking, something that’s both uniquely American and infinitely delicious.

In Jambalaya, this beautiful blend of flavors typically begins with some kind of sausage. Smoked sausage like Andouille imparts a rich depth of flavor and a hint of heat, but boudin sausage is a little milder and just as good. Next, recipes include some kind of pork or chicken, followed by some kind of seafood, typically shrimp or crawfish. This is the kind of dish that’s never the same twice, because it’s the perfect meal for making opportunistically, using what you have in your fridge or freezer on any given day. 

The holy trinity of Cajun cooking is a flavor base of onions, celery and green peppers. It’s similar to mirepoix (onion, celery and carrots), but tweaked, Southern style, for a little extra flavor by the substitution of bell peppers. The addition of tomatoes in this recipe makes it more of a Creole or “red jambalaya,” although that’s the only difference between Creole and Cajun variations on this dish. Confused? We were too, at first, but someone explained the difference between Cajun cooking and Creole cooking to us this way: Creole is more central to New Orleans and the city, while Cajun influences are synonymous with more rural cooking. The further away you get from New Orleans, the less tomatoes get used, tipping the balance from Spanish and West African flavors into a higher proportion of French culinary traditions. It’s good both ways. There’s no doubt about that. But we like the red version a little bit more.

Because the ingredients cook together in a pot with the rice, it’s all infused with a deep and full-bodied flavor profile. The vegetables and tomatoes bring a bit of sweetness to the savory base created from using three different kinds of meat and fish. Cooking the rice right in the same pot delivers a velvety starchiness that perfectly sets off every other flavor. And it’s so simple to make. 

One word of caution: after the first taste, you may find yourself craving this dish weekly. Our advice––don’t even try to fight it. Let it run its course. Give in, and give thanks for the hundreds of years of human culture that culminated in this one masterpiece of a dish.

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

Yield: 4 servings
Prep: 20 Cooking: 30

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil or bacon grease
  • ¼ of a white onion, diced small
  • ¼ of a green pepper, diced small
  • ½ stalk celery, diced small
  • 1 14oz can roasted, crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 sausage, boudin or andouille, sliced
  • 9 raw shrimp, size 16/20, peeled and deveined with tail on
  • 2 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 spring of thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
  • 1 ⅔ cups chicken stock

Cooking Tools

Method

  1. Prepare the meats and fish. Make sure the vein has been removed from the shrimp, but you can keep the tail on. The perfect size is 16/20, which will be printed on the bag, but any size will work.
  2. Add your oil or grease to the dutch oven over medium high heat. Saute the onion, celery, green bell pepper, chicken and sausage for about 2-3 minutes. If you’re cooking over coals, the heat is right when you hear the vegetables sizzling. 
  3. Add in the rice and stir to keep it from sticking. Then add the garlic, paprika, cumin and thyme, and stir constantly for about 2 minutes. 
  4. Add in canned tomatoes and chicken stock. Cover with the lid and cook for 10 minutes without opening. 
  5. At the 10 minute mark, add in the shrimp and cover to cook for 10 more minutes.
  6. When done, the mix should be sauced but not overly soupy. Serve hot in a bowl. 

Jon and Aubrey used the stove, dutch oven and cutting board from Camp Chef, a brand THOR recommends for easy campground cooking.